FAMILY: Passop founder Braam Hanekom and his “day mother”, Margaret Monemo, who helped Braam to learn to speak Shona fluently.
Braam Hanekom, the most visible face of the thousands of Zimbabweans living in Cape Town as founder member of the immigrant rights organisation, People Against Suffering, Oppression and Poverty (Passop), has just received a welcome visit from his previous Zimbabwean “day mother”.
Hanekom is gearing up for a busy few days ahead of the looming deadline for Zimbabwean permit collections at the end of July.
Margaret Munemo now owns the house where she helped raise Hanekom and his siblings in suburban Harare.
Before catching the Harare bus on Wednesday, Monemo told The New Age how “proud” she was of the child she helped to raise from the tender age of four months, and who now speaks fluent Shona to the Zimbabwean immigrants he helps in Cape Town, as a result of her maternal efforts.
Hanekom’s fluency in the vernacular and his dedication to helping his compatriots – although he himself now has South African nationality – caught the attention, and appeared to impress, Home Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma when she paid a surprise visit to the Wynberg Home Affairs office last year to check on progress towards the regularisation of Zimbabweans.
But Monemo also takes some credit for his activism, saying she is “pleased with herself too”, as she describes the work of the 27-year-old man as “amazing, because he’s helping people, whatever their race – black, white, yellow, green”.
Monemo returned home after spending time with her protégé to the house she now owns in Harare, having bought it in December 2000 from the Hanekom family with the help of her daughter, who lives in Germany.
She said she taught him, his brother and sister Shona while learning English from the family at the same time, having little formal education herself – she made it only to Grade 7 after attending night school.
Now, aged 57 and retired Monemo lives alone in the family’ house in the low-density Harare suburb of Greenwood, with her children dispersed in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Germany, but travels regularly, having been to Germany three times since her daughter moved there.
As he left to drop his “day mother” at the bus stop, Hanekom expressed his concern about the looming July 31 deadline for Zimbabweans to collect the permits that will regularise their stay in South Africa.
He said Passop had earlier this week faxed an appeal to Dlamini-Zuma – whom he sees as a “powerful” woman, not easily pressured by groups like his – after emailing the ministry on Saturday, requesting a two-month extension to the deadline for Zimbabweans to collect their permits.
This was after Home Affairs has been pressed since the December 31 deadline for submission for applications to process more than 275000 applications in the Zimbabwean Documentation Project – an arduous procedure, slowed even further by the need to fingerprint every applicant.
With 130000 permit issuances outstanding nationally and thousands still to be collected in Cape Town, Hanekom said the Wynberg office alone had so far dispersed about 6000 out of 17000 for that site.
He said it was “illogical” that the office would manage to deal with more than 10000 Zimbabweans with only six working days left in the month, and no word yet about weekend opening times.
It would mean more than 1000 people getting their documents each day, a task he sees as physically impossible, even with the two other provincial Home Affairs sites of Paarl and George in the Cape.
Hanekom warned that Zimbabweans were likely to start swamping Home Affairs offices around the country, as they started to panic over ending up in legal limbo if they did not get responses to their applications for residence and work permits. Many fear deportation as a result.
Hanekom sees a busy week ahead for Passop, a name teased from the local Afrikaans “pasop”, meaning “watch out”. He admits it did not properly define the group that explains in a coherent way the concerns of Zimbabweans to South African authorities, rather than relying on demonstrations and civic pressure.
It also serves as a protective wing for the many Zimbabweans living locally, who get a sense of protection from the group and are grateful for its work.
Alan Mupengo, a Zimbabwean taxi driver, said he was “very grateful” to Passop for the interventions it made on Zimbabweans’ behalf and the protection it afforded them.
But he was worried about the mess he could soon find himself in if he did not get his documents, which in all likelihood appear to be caught in a bureaucratic bottleneck between the province and Pretoria, from where they are issued.
Even if applications are rejected, Zimbabweans remain comforted by the fact that they can lodge an appeal and feel relaxed that the process of regularisation, if late, is at least orderly and governed by a legal process.
Dlamini-Zuma’s assurance during her visit to the Wynberg office of Home Affairs last year that Zimbabweans would not be summarily deported went a long way to easing the sense of panic of the many immigrants.
Mupengo said that if he had to return to live in Zimbabwe he would “fear for his life” after time spent in South Africa.
He said that many government supporters were worried about the “contamination” that returnees from places like South Africa would bring, given that they had become accustomed to their freedom to exercise their rights and enjoy the rule of law.